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Calls for new chief continue

BUCKEYE LAKE – Creation of an oversight committee and a defeated levy haven’t quelled some residents’ calls for new leadership of the Buckeye Lake Fire Department.

Monday night, part-time Buckeye Lake resident and Columbus firefighter John Julian gave council members an oral update of the committee’s progress as it reviews the fire department’s operations.

Buckeye Lake Mayor Rick Baker formed the committee in early September following an indepth study by The Beacon revealing large gaps in the department’s part-time paid staffing schedule that affect response times. Other committee members include Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason, resident Paul Clark, Lancaster Safety and Service Director Mike Courtney, Columbus Fire Divison Lt. Doug Sanderson, former Millersport Fire Chief and current Walnut Township Trustee Bill Yates, and Union Township Trustee Rick Black. All except Cortney and Yates attended Monday night’s council meeting.

Julian told council that the committee drafted a list of suggestions for the department including staffing.

In a report following a September committee meeting, Julian said committee members should be sure Buckeye Lake Fire Chief Pete Leindecker has all of his certifications and that they are up to date so that he is able to be chief.

Julian’s report said the committee needs to ensure fire department personnel’s certifications are up to date (both fire and EMS) and that a copy for everyone is kept in the village office.

“We’ve discovered a lack of communication,” said Julian, between council and the fire department.

The committee needed to research protocol addressing how long it takes before mutual aid is sent when BLFD cannot respond with a fully manned truck. Julian said in the report it is his understanding that mutual aid is not sent until after nine minutes have passed if no one or only one EMT is responding.

“Mutual aid should be sent in three minutes” if Buckeye Lake is unavailable, he said Monday night. He added that committee members have interviewed fire department members and the evaluation of the department is a work in progress.

Julian said the committee would continue to look into grant money to train more recruits and certify them in both fire and EMS.

“I still feel we need new leadership,” said former council member Brenda Hileman. She added that her father was a firefighter. “His chief was right there, fighting along side of them,” said Hileman, who doesn’t believe that Leindecker joins many emergency runs. “Something has to done with the leadership. It has to be dealt with,” she said.

“Committee, you need to dig a little deeper,” said former council member Peggy Wells to the oversight committee members. She said the committee didn’t interview some department volunteers and paid staff when it was initially reviewing department operations. Wells claimed inexperienced staff mans some of the department’s shifts and new members aren’t paired with seasoned members. “They put new people together,” she said, adding that she hasn’t seen improvement since the committee was formed.

“Believe it or not, I support people in the department,” said Wells, although she believes in its current state, “it’s in the way of you and I getting help.”

Later in the meeting, Wells clarified her statements, saying she “sincerely appreciates” the time the committee is spending reviewing the fire department. “It’s was a good call on the mayor’s part,” she said. “It’s just a very emotional, passionate issue for me.”

Last week Buckeye Lake voters refused to renew a five-mill fire levy for five years by a convincing 490-391 margin. Wells said she didn’t remember of a fire levy failing previously. “There might be some value in the message,” she said.

“I don’t know where your heads are,” said resident Marie Ray. “I used to feel safe here, but I don’t now.” She believes the fire department’s leadership is “lacking” and council needs to address it. “I’m dismayed at your lack of interest in us.”

Mayor Rick Baker said the fire department committee provided council an unbiased report. “I’m glad you guys did that,” he said.

Council member Kaye Hartman also thanked the committee for its work. “How soon can we expect some of these changes to be implemented?” she said. “I would be anxious to see things move along.”

“One of the hardest things is to accept criticism,” said council member Jeryne Peterson. However, she said the committee and the mayor are bound to get through to the fire department’s leadership.

In other council news,

• Baker doubts that the Fairfield Medical Center will ever build a medical branch office in Buckeye Lake, other than possibly sending an occasional practitioner for screenings and some minor medical procedures. “(Fairfield Medical Center CEO Mina Ubbing) has been very gracious to us,” he said, but he believes the center decided against a Buckeye Lake branch because most of the village is in Licking County. Baker said it may be time to speak with Licking Memorial Hospital personnel.

“I think an urgent care facility is so essential,” said Hartman.

Baker said if LMH is willing to create a Buckeye Lake branch office, it may be able to use office space near the new Buckeye Lake Public Library on Walnut Road.

• Director of Development Mike Cassidy said investor Don Dick has purchased the Holtsberry Addition property, which encompasses all the property from Bangkok City to Mike’s Auto, then along Grandstaff to the North Shore Boat Ramp. He said Dick wants to improve the property. Cassidy said the new owner wouldn’t ask any of the existing businesses to leave, but he will want the businesses to continue maintaining their properties or go somewhere else. “He’s already tearing down some sheds,” said Cassidy.

• Council members unanimously approved changing council meetings’ start time to 7 p.m. from 7:30 p.m. beginning next year.

• Hayden said she and Baker attended an open house for the Landings at Maple Bay Nov. 8 and participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony. The new owner, Stone Works of Newark, hosted the “autumn at the lake” event, with the Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce.

Homes are two or three bedroom, ranch style condominiums with Nantucket inspired elevations.

The Landings at Maple Bay will contain 98 homes, many with harbor, protected wetland, or woodland views. The development plans include access to the lake by way of a five-acre harbor, boat docks, and a deluxe clubhouse.

Hayden said the event was well attended.

• Hayden said the Buckeye Lake Youth Association’s Trunk or Treat night went well despite rain. About 12 businesses and organizations participated. “Surprisingly, though, we had a steady flow of children until around 7 p.m.,” she said. The Parks and Recreation Commission, fire and police departments represented the village. “Even though it rained most of the time, everyone seemed to enjoy the evening,” said Hayden.

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